Tuesday, November 1, 2011

ACH Book Recommendation: Chief Bender's Burden by Tom Swift

Even if you are a baseball fan, you might not have heard of Charles Albert "Chief" Bender. In fact, I doubt that many of today's baseball fans know much about the so-called "deadball era."

In those days, Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics (or "A's") were regular participants in the World Series. The team featured the then-famous $100,000 infield (a lot of money to pay four players back then) and two Hall of Fame pitchers, Eddie Plank and "Chief" Bender, a White Earth Anishinaabeg from Minnesota.

Strip away the baseball content from this book and you have pretty much the same theme as Algonkian Church History: Indians denied their native ways took on white ways - and, for the most part, they succeeded in doing so. On the other hand, the title: Chief Bender's Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star is spot-on.

Tom Swift researched Bender's life carefully and found that he volunteered to attend Carlisle. As you may know, there were times when Indian children were rounded up and forced to leave their parents. But after finishing up at one boarding school, Charles Albert ran away from home and was glad to see the "recruiters" from Carlisle. Unfortunately, Bender went to boarding school willingly after literally getting kicked by his father (who, I should probably mention, was white). Whatever role Bender's mother had in his upbringing was pretty much summed up by the fact that she didn't have much of a connection with Chalres Albert.

Later it was the manager and part owner of the Philadelphia A's, Connie Mack, who became a father figure to his young star pitcher. I enjoyed reading about some of the aspects of baseball then that are very different from how things are today. How did fans follow the scores back then? I'll give you a hint, they weren't sent to your Blackberry or reported on ESPN's Sportscenter, I'll let you get the real answer from the book.

Anyway, Swift pulled up a bunch of reports or stories about things that may or may not have happened. My favorite, if true, could have been the reason why 1914 was Bender's last season in an A's uniform:

[Mack] sent Bender, his bright pitcher with the eagle eyes, to New York to scout the Boston Braves. But, according to one version of the story, while Bender was supposedly in New York, Mack ran into him on a Philadelphia street corner.

"I thought you had gone to look over the Braves," Mack said.

Bender shrugged him off. "What's the use of wasting a perfectly good afternoon looking at a bunch of bush league hitters?" (page 209)
For more, see the book's page on the University of Nebraska Press' website.

You can buy the book and read several reviews at Amazon.com.

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